Getting in the zone with IP audio

August 10, 2021
David Needham, Axis Communications, explains how defining network audio zones can be a powerful feature to help industries operate with improved security, safety and efficiency.

As the migration from analogue to digital (IP) audio increases, forward-thinking AV professionals are beginning to understand the many benefits that modern IP-enabled solutions present. Simple IoT connectivity, smooth and streamlined operation and the ability to integrate digital audio products with existing audio and video systems results in a robust system with implications for improving security and enhancing business operations across a range of industries. Indeed, IP audio can help to keep workers and the public safer, while delivering a more customised and personalised experience.

Specifying and setting audio zones is just one powerful function of such a solution. This functionality allows security alerts, messages or music to be played within designated areas, imparting important information or encouraging desired behaviours. The ability to select pre-recorded audio, or to record instant messages and allocate them to certain speakers within certain areas is simple yet effective with IP audio technology. This represents a key advantage that such solutions have over their analogue predecessors, while addressing a major pain point across a variety of sectors.

Improving site security

Within airports or other critical national infrastructure sites with large perimeters to protect, employing a  

network audio system is the ideal complement to a video-based security solution because of its ability to target real-time messages to specific zones, dramatically improving security measures. Consider a scenario where an intruder attempts to climb the perimeter fence. Here a network camera within a certain zone detects activity and sounds an automatic warning via a digital speaker. This type of warning may be sufficient, preventing the need for further security measures. However, an escalation in criminal activity can trigger an automatic alert to security personnel, an alarm receiving centre (ARC) and the Police.

Zone-specific audio activity also means that audio is effectively contained within a specified area or multiple areas. In the event of a situation such as the one described occurring at a busy airport, passengers will be unaware of such alerts, which are only targeted at the trespasser. Only when an event necessitates cooperation or action from the public, such as the emergency evacuation of a site or outbreak of fire, then zone configurations can be quickly altered to deliver instructions to those who need them.

Public address to broadcast key messages

Connecting an IP audio solution to a network is a much more efficient means of targeting relevant messages to those who need them most. Take any transport hub, for example - all large hubs have a need to broadcast travel information to specific areas so that travellers can find their way to the right platform or departure lounge. The use of IP audio zones helps transport operators broadcast specific travel information to passengers so the right people can find their way to the right area, at the right time.

Moreover, an especially unique application of audio technology and zone targeting is its ability to help prevent suicide on our railways, which reached a staggering 283 in the 2019/20 financial year. While having a long-lasting impact on all involved, suicide costs the rail industry millions of pounds each year. One way in which railway stations are increasingly able to prevent this tragic occurrence is by integrating IP audio with existing network camera technology. The increased data helps station managers identify those loitering or acting strangely in high-risk areas, such as the edge of a platform, so they have time to make physical interventions, or to play an announcement via an IP-enabled horn speaker in the zone of the individual, effectively breaking the ’30-minute wave’, the period within which the individual contemplates suicide.

Similar benefits are being felt in the retail space too. Consider a large department store that spans numerous floors. Each floor may target a different customer segment, for example, men, women or parents. Shop managers, knowledgeable about the buying habits and behaviours of each customer segment, can broadcast targeted offers or promotions that appeal to a specific customer demographic. Then, when the store needs to be re-organised, the audio zones can be simply updated from a central location without the onerous task of removing and re-installing an analogue system. IP audio represents a flexible, simple solution to a previously complex issue.

Improving outcomes with background music

Music can have a dramatic impact on our mood. It can help us focus, give us energy, or help us relax. The use of IP audio technology and zone allocation can have a positive impact on customer behaviours, particularly in the retail and hospitality sectors. However, another good example of its benefits involved a ground-breaking research project recently undertaken at Leeds Beckett University which demonstrated that the innovative use of sound technologies helped to improve the learning experience for children with special education needs. The hope is that this will lead to better outcomes in their education and in their futures.

The project involved the installation of sound projection IP audio solutions into five mainstream provision schools in the North of England. The equipment was placed in specific classrooms to help identify pupils who struggle with a range of specific learning difficulties. Leading-edge IP audio technology was chosen not only because it was simple to connect to the schools’ existing IT infrastructure, but also because it can enable different sound profiles to be centrally managed and played in different zones. Researchers found that playing sounds into different zones, based on the children’s needs, helped reduce anxiety and create a calmer and more relaxed learning environment.

The use of IP audio technology and the ability to specify and select zones can enable businesses to make more intelligent decisions with regards to improving safety, efficiency and customer satisfaction, while for consumers, such technology can satisfy a demand for increasing personalised and engaging experiences. As the limitations of analogue become ever more apparent, the full migration to IP audio is not far away, taking the AV industry a step closer to a smarter, safer world.

Find out more about Axis’ network audio solution
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